Healthy Snacks and Nutrition 101
Part of the keys to maintaining weight loss is building healthy snacks into your diet and meal plan. Practically, though, you also need to build healthy snacks that you will actually eat! I love zucchini and I’ll eat it in salads or cooked as a veggie or in stir fry, but I’m not going to sit down and just eat raw zucchini by itself. Sorry! Some people will, there are just other healthy snacks I prefer to eat.
So you’ve got to find something that’s going to work for you. If you enjoy certain fruits stock up on those fruits even if they’re expensive rather than buy cheaper fruits that sit in the refrigerator and go moldy because they aren’t your favorites. Or you don’t like the bother of cutting them up. You can also purchase in most grocery stores (for a price) pre-cut veggies and fruit. If this is the only way you’ll make yourself eat healthy veggies and fruit, by all means do it!
Homemade veggie trays with hummus are great ways to get plenty of healthy, nutritious foods into your diet.
Watermelon, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and cantaloupe are all great options for snacks. Here I have grapes, strawberries, oranges, and blackberries. Keeping a bowl of assorted fruit in your refrigerator – or small bowls with individual fruits in each – are excellent options to stay on track with healthy eating. But you must prepare stuff ahead of time so it is ready when you are starving!
Perhaps we need a quick lesson first in what should be considered healthy and what you should stay away from.
1) NEWS FLASH! Granola cereal, granola bars and granola snacks like trail mix ARE NOT HEALTHY! Most are loaded with sugar in one form or another. Eating a bowl of granola cereal has about the same amount of calories as a slab of chocolate cake with icing! Many are made with hydrogenated oils or made with oils that become unstable when subject to the process of high heating temperatures for processing. They are usually filled with MSG — especially with the bogus “natural flavorings” ingredient on labels many companies disguise this with. (For more info, read Nourishing Traditions).
2) Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, all sweeteners ending in -ose, artificial sweeteners and MSG cause chemical reactions in the body which cause your body to crave more sugar and more food in general so you eat more if you eat products with this kind of stuff in it. You’ll never be able to lose or maintain weight if you are eating processed foods that add these things to their products. This includes diet drinks, chewing gum, mints, cereals, snacks, canned soups, most canned chicken broth and bouillon, and most packaged foods.
3) If you break down and eat a sweet dessert, it will take your body 3 to 5 days of sugar withdrawals before you no longer crave the sugar or sweet desserts!
4) Most chips, crackers and salty snacks are made with hydrogenated oils or, as stated above, with oils that become unstable at high temperatures. Your body was never designed to process these kinds of foods and that’s why we are the sickest, most obese generation of Americans that ever lived.
5) Packaged peanut butter crackers, or crackers and cheese are not healthy options for reasons stated above.
6) If you want to eat sliced deli meat try to get the kind without nitrates and other preservatives.
I used many different websites to gather my information, including many extension departments from state universities around the country. I am particularly indebted to these websites for their excellent information and help:
1) New York Times health sections for mineral nutrition information
2) Nutrition and You for fruit and veggie nutrition information
3) LiveStrong (Lance Armstrong’s foundation) for fruit and veggie nutrition information
DISCLAIMER: Every food that I list here has links so you can cross check for yourself what the nutrients are in each food. These links provide much more information about the nutritional benefits of these foods than I am able to put in a small post like this. Please check out the links if you want or need more information.
I was munching on apples and oranges the other day when I was baking bread. If you won’t eat apples unless they are cut and cored, then core them! Use some lemon juice if you need to in order to keep them fresh.
According to the University of Illinois Extension: “Apples are a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, thus reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.”
Oranges also have many health benefits. Nutrition-and-you notes, “The fruit is low in calories, contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, but is rich in dietary fiber, pectin, which is very effective in persons with excess body weight. Pectin, by its action as bulk laxative, helps to protect the mucous membrane of the colon by decreasing its exposure time to toxic substances as well as by binding to cancer causing chemicals in the colon. Pectin has also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels by decreasing its re-absorption in the colon by binding to bile acids in the colon.”
Buy a watermelon and cut it up in pieces. Store it in the refrigerator and pull it out to snack on whenever you need something sweet to eat. High in water content, low in calories.
Natural News states that watermelon is high in antioxidants and other nutrients that are known to ward off cancers, and reduce arthritis and asthma symptoms.
Avocados have a high nutrient density and have many vitamins and minerals helpful to the body.
Avocados contain 18 amino acids needed to make a full protein, are known to boost HDL levels (good cholesterol), are a great source of carotenoids which enhance immune system function. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids according to Natural News.
Raw veggies are wonderful if you can eat them with a little salt and pepper or other seasonings instead of with Ranch dip! If you don’t like them plain than include them in salads or serve with hummus.
Zucchini is high in potassium which helps regulate blood pressure and vitamins A and C. See link here.
I love eating sliced Roma tomatoes with a little salt and pepper. Baby carrots are another really low calorie healthy snack.
Tomatoes are high in lycopene which protect cells from free radicals. They are also rich in Vitamins B & C and Potassium. (see link here).
Carrots are high in Vitamin A. According to Nutrition-and-you, “Studies have found that flavonoid compounds in carrots help protect from skin, lung and oral cavity cancers.”
Here I have a healthy snack of a peach and some cherries.
Peaches are high in Vitamin C and rich in potassium, iron, and fluoride. (see link here).
Scientific studies on cherries, according to Nutrition-and-you, “have shown that anthocyanins in the cherries are found to act like anti-inflammatory agents by blocking the actions of cycloxygenase-1 and 2 enzymes. Thus consumption of cherries has potential health effects against chronic painful episodes such as gout, arthritis, fibromyalgia, (painful muscle condition) and sports injuries.”
I love lima beans! They are the only bean I would probably eat as a snack. Rinse if you are using the canned variety, microwave, and then add a little pepper and garlic. Yummy!
Lima Beans are helpful in stabilizing blood sugar, are high in many minerals including molybdenum which helps counteract sulfites in food. They are also high in magnesium and folate which help reduce heart attack risk.
Baked sweet potato sprinkled liberally with cinnamon with no butter and no sugar is a great option, but also Spicy Sweet Potato Oven Fries are delicious and easy.
Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin A and beta carotene which means they are extremely helpful in protecting skin from overaging. They have a high potassium content which means they can prevent muscle cramps. Sweet potatoes also enjoy a low glycemic index which means blood sugar doesn’t spike after eating them.
This small bowl of strawberries is a great snack for afternoons when you are between lunch and dinner meals.
Strawberries have tremendous health benefits, according to Strawberry Nutrition, “Because of its rich Vitamin C content, the ripe strawberry fruit are an appropriate food supplement for spring fever and scurvy, rheumatism, tuberculosis and others. Strawberry nutrition has a diaphoretic action, with its potassium it enhances the activity of your heart muscle and the respiratory organs, acts favorably on diseases of the mouth and throat, strengthens the teeth and gives a fresh skin tone.”
Hard boiled eggs are healthy alternatives to snack foods and cookies.
Eggs help in muscle strength and muscle loss prevention, provide choline which is necessary for pregnant women in the development of the fetus to prevent birth defects, helps provide good eye health and prevent macular degeneration, aids in weight management, and has several amino acids necessary for the body not found elsewhere (see book Nourishing Traditions for amino acid breakdown).
Bananas have no cholesterol, sodium, or fat, and are a rich source of potassium which helps alleviate muscle cramping, dietary fiber, which is helpful for the digestive tract, manganese, which facilitates the metabolic processes in your body, and Vitamins B6, which helps make hemoglobin and antibodies to ward off disease, and Vitamin C, which is helpful for growing and repairing tissue, healing, and has an antioxidants that protect and block the body from the harm that comes from free-radicals.
A baked potato without all the toppings, instead substituting seasonings, is a filling way to get fiber in your diet and feel full and a lot less calories than potato chips or French fries which are cooked in oil.
Potatoes are high in Potassium which helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in the body. Potassium is helpful to regulate blood pressure and is vital for nerves especially in transmitting signals throughout the nervous system. Potatoes are also high in Vitamin C which regulates the body’s immune system.
Potatoes contain iron. According to Potato Goodness, “Iron also has a critical role within cells assisting in oxygen utilization, enzymatic systems, especially for neural development, and overall cell function everywhere in the body. Thus, iron deficiency affects all body functions, not only through anemia, which appears late in the process of tissue iron deficits.”
Peaches are high in fiber and excellent to increase the speed of digestion.
Peaches are high in Vitamin A which promote vision health, high in antioxidants which promote cell repair, and “Antioxidants are believed to help prevent and repair oxidative stress, a process that damages body cells and has been linked to the development of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” as stated by Peach Depot.
Nuts are a very healthy option to include in small amounts. A tablespoon of walnuts added to yogurt or oatmeal in the morning is an excellent way to get a high dosage of antioxidants and essential omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
A handful of nuts in your breakfast cereal, yogurt, oatmeal help you feel fuller longer so those eating a small amount of nuts per day were able to stick to their diet plans versus those who don’t, as indicated by a University of Nebraska study. Those who eat a serving of nuts per day reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes by 30% over those who don’t eat nuts according to this same study.
Walnuts: an ounce (14 pieces) per day is enough to provide the RDA for omega-3 fatty acids.
Almonds: an ounce (20-24 whole) is high in Vitamin E which helps with healthy aging. It may also help protect from Ahlzheimer’s Disease.
Peanuts: though a legume rather than a nut are high in B vitamins, particularly niacin, which is essential for digestion, skin and nerves and, folate, which enhances protein metabolism, cell growth, and formation of red blood cells.
Okra is a wonderful vegetable but having it deep fried adds hundreds of extra calories. It is perhaps better to eat stewed with tomatoes or added to soups or stir fries.
The University of Illinois Extension indicates, “Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. Nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.”
I love sitting down to a bowl of grape tomatoes!
Tomatoes are a good source of Vitamins A, C, K, and Potassium. Vitamin C is known for its healing properties, immune system benefits, absorption of iron, and prevention of some diseases. Vitamin K is required for its blood clotting abilities.
The health section of the New York Times notes these Vitamin K side effects or deficiencies:
- It occurs when the body can’t properly absorb the vitamin from the intestinal tract. Vitamin K deficiency can also occur after long-term treatment with antibiotics.
- People with vitamin K deficiency are usually more likely to have bruising and bleeding.
- If you take blood thinning drugs (such as anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs), you may need to limit vitamin K foods. You should know that vitamin K or foods containing vitamin K can affect how these drugs work.
Tomatoes also contain lycopene which is supposed to be a more effective antioxidant that beta carotene. According to FitDay, these are some of the benefits of lycopene: “Its powerful antioxidant actions are effective in maintaining the strength, thickness and fluidity of cell membranes. Cell membranes are the guardians of cells. They are responsible for screening what goes in and out of cells. They allow good nutrients in and remove cellular junk and prevent toxins from entering the cells. Strong healthy cell membranes are vital in the prevention of many diseases.”
- Heart diseases-Lycopene stops LDL cholesterol from being oxidized by free radicals and in turn cannot be deposited in the plaques which narrows and hardens the arteries
- Infertility-Research suggests that lycopene may help in the treatment of infertility. Results from tests showed that lycopene can boost sperm concentration in men
- Helps prevent diabetes
- Prevents age-related macular degeneration and cataracts
- Prevents the aging of skin and keeps it younger looking
- Acts as an internal sunscreen and protects your skin from sunburn
- Lycopene is also been known to help prevent osteoporosis
Some people can eat green onions raw just by themselves (I’m not one of them)! But if you can’t they are great to add to salads or stir fries for more nutrients.
Green onions are high in Vitamin A which helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Green onions also contain rich amounts of iron, calcium, and Vitamin C.
Green onions also provide a lot of B vitamins, copper, which helps in red blood cell formation, it also affects the health of nerves, bones, the immune system and blood vessels. Copper deficiency leads to osteoporosis and anemia. Green onions are also high in magnesium, which regulate energy, muscles, enzymes and production of protein, and phosphorous, which regulates protein synthesis, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, cell growth and maintenance, and bones.
Miniature bell peppers are a delicious snack.
Peppers are high in Vitamin A which promote eye and skin health, Vitamin C which promotes healing and keeps teeth and gums strong, as stated by the Mississippi State Extension Service.
This banana with organic peanut butter is a healthy snack. Avoid regular peanut butters that are packed with hydrogenated oils, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and other garbage.
We have already mentioned the health benefits of peanuts and bananas.
Sweet Potato Fries are a delicious snack. They are seasoned lightly with olive oil and cinnamon.
We mentioned the benefits of sweet potatoes. Cinnamon is helpful in aiding digestion, has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, increases brain function and may help improve type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
I don’t care for yellow squash plain except in salads, but I love it as a snack baked in the oven with a little cornmeal, salt and pepper. I usually make up a large batch and reheat as snacks the next day.
Yellow squash is high in Vitamin C which promotes tissue repair. It also includes the B vitamins, thiamine, which strengthens the nervous system, B6, which strengthens the immune system, red blood cells and brain function, and Folic Acid, which prevents birth defects and strengths the heart and circulatory systems.
Spinach Salad with Fruit is a great option for lunch but also to nibble on at other times during the day.
Spinach has phyto-nutrients known for promotion of good health and fighting off diseases. It is high in iron necessary for red blood cell production, and has several antioxidants that help fight off eye disease like macular degeneration, and other diseases caused by “oxygen-derived free radicals,” as indicated by Nutrition-and-you.
Pineapple contains huge amounts of Vitamin C which as has been stated earlier in this post has a lot of antioxidants, and absorbs iron. It also has a large amount of manganese which is essential for metabolism of carbohydrates, cholesterol and amino acids.
Mandarin oranges are the same thing as tangerines which I didn’t realize until today. We used to have a tangerine tree, a naval orange, a lemon, and a grapefruit tree in our yard when I grew up in Florida.
Mandarin oranges provide copper, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium (all of the benefits have been explained earlier in this post). They contain a lot of Vitamin C (explained earlier), and several B vitamins including Pantothenic acid, which is essential for growth and metabolism. It is also necessary for the production of cholesterol and hormones.
Blueberries are extremely high in Vitamin C which aids in maintaining healthy gums, capillaries, and the formation of collagen. They are high in fiber and are a good source of manganese which promotes bone growth and carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. Blueberries are high in antioxidants which work to neutralize free radicals so they can’t cause diseases and cancers.
Cashew nuts are rich in oleic and palmitoleic acids which lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. They are rich in a lot of minerals including copper, manganese, magnesium, selenium, potassium, iron, and zinc all of which provide vital processes for enzymes and other bodily functions.
Making your own homemade veggie tray is a great way to have snacks available throughout the week. If you must have dip with your veggies, a little Greek yogurt seasoned with spices is a lot healthier option than Ranch dip or anything store bought loaded with preservatives, MSG, hidden sugar in various forms and other products that increase your appetite. I recommend hummus instead.
Broccoli packs protein, antioxidants necessary for eye health, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and as a cruciferous vegetable has a large quantity of lignans (phytoestrogens) and phytosterols which help lower bad cholesterol. It also has properties that strengthen the immune system so it can better fight off cancers.
Cucumber peel provides dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and aids in protecting from colon cancers and ailments in the gut. Cucumbers have a large amount of Vitamin K which promotes bone strength and helps prevent osteoporosis. They also have a good amount of potassium which regulates blood pressure and counters excess sodium in the body.
Prewashing berries, or slicing up other fruits is a way of having them available when you’re ready to eat. They are great for kids lunches, too.
Kiwi fruit has great antioxidant properties which are known to reduce cancer risk and heart disease, and help protect against eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration. Because kiwi fruit is also high in fiber it protects the body against gastrointestinal diseases, diabetes, and heart diseases.
Blackberries have a lot of nutritional benefits. According to Nutrition-and-you, “Blackberries compose significantly high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid, tannin), quercetin, gallic acid, cyanidins, pelargonidins, catechins, kaempferol and salicylic acid. Scientific studies show that these antioxidant compounds may have potential health benefits against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases.”
Blackberries also contain xylitol in the fruit fibers which is a sweetener than absorbs much slower in the body than sugar so there aren’t wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
Grapes contain an antioxidant that fights against prostate and colon cancer, heart disease, viral/fungal infections, degenerative nerve disease, and Ahlzheimer’s disease. Grapes also possess anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic properties.
Cantaloupe can be cut up and made ready to eat really quickly. It’s a wonderful snack or dessert after meals. Mom always called this muskmelon when we were growing up!
Cantaloupe is high in Vitamin A which is necessary for healthy vision, mucous membranes, and skin, and also protects against lung and oral cavity cancers. Because cantaloupe contains many antioxidant flavonoids, these ingredients help protect against pancreatic, colon, lung, endometrial, prostate or breast cancers.
Eggs over true whole grain bread. This bread was made with honey and all natural ingredients. The wheat berries and spelt had been home ground to prevent any removal of nutrients during most regular refining processes. Butter was used for the oil instead of Crisco.
Whole grain wheat contains selenium, which protects against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and toxicity from poisonous metals, magnesium (properties explained earlier in this post) and potassium (also explained earlier). Whole grain wheat also includes a large amount of dietary fiber, tryptophan, which helps regulate your sleep, appetite, and helps elevate your mood, and manganese (explained earlier).
This Greek yogurt includes grapes, ground flaxseeds and honey. When I was going off sugar I used honey for a few weeks, but now I find I no longer use it with plain Greek yogurt. Plain or vanilla Greek yogurt and fruit is a great breakfast starter or snack during the day since there is no sugar added.
I add Flaxseeds to my Greek yogurt every morning. They can go rancid easily so I store them in an old Wheat Germ jar in the refrigerator and in my freezer. Flaxseeds are high in the Omega-3 Alpha linolenic acid which protects heart health, reduces inflammation, prevents cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and keeps bones healthy.
Greek yogurt has twice the protein of regular yogurt and it is much thicker than regular yogurt. The consistency is even thicker than sour cream. I love the thicker, creamier taste. I’ll never go back to regular yogurt. While I am somewhat lactose intolerant, I don’t have quite as much problem with Greek yogurt as milk, cheese, ice cream, or even other yogurt.
This yogurt breakfast has flaxseeds, banana and diced peaches. Adding overripe bananas to plain or vanilla Greek yogurt is a great way to get rid of them. They have slightly more natural sugar than green or just ripe bananas, and since you mash them anyway they spread throughout the yogurt making a deliciously natural sweet taste. I almost always have a banana with some other kind of fruit with my yogurt.
This Greek yogurt breakfast had flaxseeds, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.
Raspberries have many anti-inflammatory properties, and properties that aid eye sight and memory. Raspberry tea has been used to soothe colds, sore throats, and canker sores. Raspberries inhibit cancer cell growth and promote healing.
This Greek yogurt had flaxseeds, banana, and strawberries.
We have already spoken about the benefits of strawberries and bananas.
Plain or vanilla Greek yogurt is very healthy. It has no sugar or sweeteners added. Here I’ve added flaxseed and cherries.
We have already spoken of the benefits of cherries.
These are just some ways you can change your diet and provide healthy snacks for your family. Instead of the traditional sandwich or soup for lunch, a lot of times I will eat several of these kinds of snacks and then have a large salad at dinner. If you eat this way you will get the required servings of fruits and vegetables your body needs, and it will begin detoxifying itself from all the toxins in packaged foods.